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"La Grande"

Laura Gibson – La Grande
11 January 2012, 07:55 Written by Michael James Hall

For her fifth solo album, Portland native Laura Gibson brings together a collection of modern folk and roots tunes that have their foundations laid firmly in the distant past but a delivery which is very much in and of the modern world.

At first glance and indeed on first listen you’d be hard pushed to differentiate Gibson from a whole clutch of post-folkies from both sides of the Atlantic – from Laura Marling to Kate Rusby to Joanna Newsom it’s easy to pick up on the superficial similarities. Indeed, like an American equivalent of Marling, Gibson has made something of a speciality of “indie” collaborations, most notably with Colin Meloy of The Decemberists (which clearly beats knocking around with the Mumfords any day of the week).

This, though, is a record that ages excellently well, each listen a sip of warming wine, offering a cumulative effect of intoxication. As tracks like the luscious ‘Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed’ (and what a title that is) pour from the speakers they emerge each time around as closer, more attractive and kinder friends visiting on sequential evenings, each night’s entertainment more lovely than the last.

These are honeyed, golden tunes for delectation. ‘Lion Lamb’ has an ancient jazz sound that gives way to undercurrents of rumbling feedback spiced with a near-Disney backing; ‘Red Moon’ has the most irresistible charm of the whole record – a soft, smooth, finally yearning song that speaks of wanting to “carry your torch and drink of your poetry”; ‘Crow Swallow’ is a stark meditation on regret and sorrow – “I am no dreamer/I could not keep my hands clean”, Gibson intones elegantly, so sadly.

There are moments where the woozy hit doesn’t quite envelop you as it should – the faux-sexy ‘Skin Warming Skin’ for instance, or the uptempo trad-folk of ‘The Fire’ – but these are small shrugs of the shoulder countered by moments like the stunning closer ‘Feather Lungs’ – a piano-led torch song immaculately delivered in Gibson’s crushingly sad, smoky-sweet tones. Subtle strings accentuate the weight of emotion – “Night will pull her curtains closed and whisper every parting word”. It’s evocative, heady stuff.

While a softly sexual, dark and rich folk record may not be considered cutting edge or boundary pushing in any way in 2012 it is always, regardless of style, worth celebrating a beautiful, well-crafted, emotive record. And this, surely, is one of those.

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